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How Cities Are Fighting Violence With Efforts Going Beyond Policing

With a rise in homicides in more than a dozen major U.S. cities, local leaders are trying to strike a balance between relying on law enforcement and engaging others, such as social workers, to reduce violence in at-risk communities. Wary that debates on "defunding the police" could stall violence reduction efforts as deaths spike, some local leaders are pleading with state and federal officials to help them coordinate among law enforcement, health care agencies and social services groups, Stateline reports.


New York City plans to increase the number of police officers in key, high-violence neighborhoods, where officers will be clearly identifiable and wearing body cameras. The city will launch a summer youth employment program and will invest in violence intervention programs such as mediation and mental health services.


Christopher Herrmann, a professor of law and political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, called Mayor Eric Adams' anticrime plan a good first step but said it should have addressed a lack of affordable housing in the city and its ties to violent crime. Herrmann is skeptical about the need to have gun violence liaisons in every city department, including sanitation or parks.


In Philadelphia, the spike in gun deaths requires a different, more focused approach than in previous years, said Erica Atwood of the city’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

“Gun violence is a symptom; it is not the overarching problem,” she said. “If we do not look at the issues of poverty, poor access to mental and behavioral health, poor access to quality education and training and economic mobility, we are going to continue to have these conversations every 15 to 20 years.”


Philadelphia has issued a roadmap for addressing its gun violence emergency by providing specific neighborhoods and high-risk individuals with social services, dispute mediation and jobs to dissuade future violence. The plan also calls for reducing the number of blighted buildings and abandoned lots, while working with the state to investigate and stop gun trafficking. The plan directs police to concentrate on “hotspot” blocks where gun violence is frequent.


There is still an imbalance in the way cities approach gun violence, with an overemphasis on policing and punishment instead of preventing and addressing the trauma that comes with systemic racism and violence, said Lisa Fujie Parks of the Prevention Institute, a national nonprofit that focuses on health equity.


Cities are taking several different approaches to prevent gun violence. In cities including Los Angeles; Oakland, California; and Richmond, Via., community partnership programs identify a small group of high-risk individuals and provide services such as mentoring and training.


In Chicago, the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative has supported nearly 850 young, at-risk men through professional development and cognitive behavioral interventions, seeking to reshape violent tendencies and split-second decisions to pull a trigger.


The program pays the men wages and stipends based on their level of participation. They have paid participants around $10 million since 2017. The initiative may be working. According to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, men who participate in the program for at least one session have 79 percent fewer arrests for shootings and homicides.

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